THE sport of Greyhound racing is particularly outstanding in this country with state-of-the-art facilities at Curraheen Park in Cork and Shelbourne Park helping to take the sport to new heights.
It is people like the legendary Cork greyhound trainer Christy O’Callaghan who deserve the most credit for the popularity of the sport with his years of dedication in training at a high level.
Christy was born in Macroom in 1945 and it was through his uncle Jimmy Masters that he got interested in greyhounds as a raw nine-year-old.
“Jimmy bred Dawn’s Dream to win the 1954 English Greyhound Derby but he later sold it for £1,000 in which he used to buy a farm,” said Christy.
It was not until 1964 that Christy trained his first winner when a dog called Don’s Darling won at the old track on Cork’s Western Road.
The training skills of Christy was soon spotted and in 1966 he was chosen by Bord Na gCon to travel to Sweden in an effort to promote the IrIsh Greyhound Industry.
Indeed, such was the impact that Christy made whilst he was in Sweden that he did similar work in Spain.
The Irish Laurels is the big classic held annually in Curraheen Stadium and in recent years inspired by Cork GAA legend Jimmy Barry Murphy and a fundraising committee they have managed to keep it going following the withdrawal of sponsors.
In his career O’Callaghan trained the winner of the Laurels four times that began in 1975 with a stunning run by the talented Moonshine Bandit.
The other winners were Standard Image, Knockeen Master and The Stranger who completed his winners in the event in 1992.
For the greyhound purist the brilliance of The Stranger will never be forgotten by O’Callaghan as he also managed to win the St Leger in Limerick.
The supreme talent of The Stranger surfaced when he became the first ever greyhound in the history of the sport to break the 29 second barrier at the Western Road tack for 525 yards.
The list of winners that Christy trained in his career goes on and outside of his six classic winners he also trained the winner of the Guinness 600 at Shelbourne Park twice.
As the years matured Christy’s skills in improving greyhounds was noticeable as he also trained Buckall to break 29 seconds at the Tralee track.
When you have trained greyhounds over four decades you are bound to have a soft spot for one particular greyhound and for Christy Cable King is tops.
Cable King was born in 1995 and through his great career raced 83 times and won on 44 occasions.
To show his incredible consistency he finished runner up on 20 occasions and won the Murphy’s Irish Open three times at the Youghal track.
Ironically my late brother Paudie purchased Mountleader Peer a quality greyhound in 1996 and it was Christy he asked to train him.
After winning the Champion Stakes he almost won the Irish Derby only to be pipped in the shadow of the post.
Paudie later withdrew from the three-man syndicate that owned this quality greyhound but in the months before he died in 2018, he spoke about how close this greyhound came to winning the biggest prize in Irish Greyhound racing.
“Mountleader Peer was an outstanding greyhound, but Christy O’Callaghan’s handling was meticulous and was a huge part of the success story,” said Paudie (RIP).
When Curraheen Park opened in 2000 attendances improved beyond all recognition in Cork and Christy was adamant it was a great addition to the sport.
“The facilities at the Cork track are second to none but I must say to be successful as a trainer you got to have a class dog with plenty of pace.” The increased prizemoney was a welcome boost to all owners and trainers according to Christy.
“The cost of feeding supplements and the increase in fuel it was getting harder all the time and the burden was eased a bit.
Speaking in 2003 Christy was asked what does it take to be a good trainer?
“A trainer is only as good as his dog” said Christy.
“I will never forget what English trainer Jimmy Rimmer said about what it takes to win an English derby, 85% luck, 10% dog and 5% trainer.” Christy O’Callaghan began training greyhounds 56 years ago and in his own words enjoyed every moment of it.
O’Callaghan has taken the rough with the smooth but for the upcoming trainers Christy has only one tip for everybody in the sport.
“If you are good to your dogs, your dogs will be good to you.”
Sound advice indeed from a Greyhound training legend.
The uncle of Christy O’Callaghan called Jimmy Masters bred a greyhound called Dawn’s Dream to win the 1954 English Greyhound Derby.
In 1964 O’Callaghan trained his first winner at the Western Road track as Don’s Darling romped home.
Christy travelled to both Sweden and Spain in 1965 to promote the Irish Greyhound Industry.
O’Callaghan trained six classic winners during his 40 years involved training greyhounds.
Christy trained Mountleader Peer to win the Irish Champion Stakes in 1996.